Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 27 November to Saturday 3 December 1261

A very tense week for Henry III, as he waited on peace or war in the Tower of London. At Kingston on  Thames on 21 November, his envoys and those of his opponents had negotiated a ‘form of peace’. But would it prove acceptable?  Simon de Montfort was now leading the fight to reject the terms, given they meant  relinquishing control of the king and thus the overthrow  (as Simon would have seen it) of the Provisions of Oxford. At Runnymede in 1215 it had taken three days for the terms of Magna Carta to be accepted by the barons assembled at Runnymede.  John issued the Charter on 15 June and it was only on the nineteenth that peace was declared. Now it was taking much longer for this week saw no formal ratification and announcement of the 21 November settlement. The fine rolls continue to reflect the turmoil.  Between 26 November and  10 December only seventeen writs to initiate and further  common law legal actions were purchased, a pretty paltry number for a fortnight. Would there then be war or peace. Would Henry III win or Simon de Montfort? Next week we really do find out!

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One Response to “Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 27 November to Saturday 3 December 1261”

  1. Peter Jones says:

    Amid the strain of this tense week for Henry, it was a pleasurable relief to read about his sense of humour. In the latest Fine of the Month, David Carpenter reveals Henry displaying a playful spirit and a lively humour. These are traits the king may well have acquired from tales of the leadership styles of his Angevin predecessors. Henry II, in particular, was prone to letting a good joke override his sense of the stricter conventions of government. When two monks were called before Henry charged with making land violations, the pair made a witty jest and were set free by the king. At another point two men, who had been caught talking ill of the king, made a joke that caused Henry to burst into laughter, and, likewise, were let off for their offence. Henry III’s dealings, illustrated in the Fine of the Month, are perhaps evidence of a similarly playful relationship to the apparatus of government. Although his jesting with them underlines the prominence of the fine roll documents, it would also have actively reminded everybody that the king was fully able to manipulate them at his will.

    On this note, we might also wonder if, beyond the play, there wasn’t a more serious function to this kind of royal joke? It is entirely possible that this sort of prank could have served as a gentle nudge for correcting behaviour. The laughter, when Peter the Poitevin reflected on it, may have made him think a little more about the nature of his transactions for the king. Making a joke in lieu of more direct action, after all, was another trait reminiscent of Henry’s forebears. When Hilary of Chichester enraged Henry II, the Battle Abbey chronicler indicates, the king first dealt with him by making a joke of the situation. Only when that had failed to register did the king resort to a more direct, angry reprimand. In a similar vain, we might think too of the sharp tongue of Henry III’s father John. It was, we are told, not any lofty rhetoric but rather John’s sneering mockery which spurred the Flemings to a victory against the odds at Exeter. Aside from providing light relief, it seems that humour, as the spur of shame and memory, was recognized for its great potential to get under the skin of associates. It might well be that Henry III, similarly, considered humour to be a potent tool in his political dealings.

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